On Monday May 13th, the documentary What We Left Behind all about Star Trek: Deep Space Nine will hit US and Canadian theaters in a one-night event. TrekMovie has spoken to members of the cast and producers about what we can expect from the documentary and about their time on DS9. Today we start with our interview with Armin Shimerman, who played the Ferengi bartender, Quark, for seven seasons.
Starting with What We Left Behind, what are you hoping that people will take away from seeing this documentary?
What I think they will get and hope they take away, is the amount of love that was put into the show. I know love is a word that is overused, but it really is part and parcel of what we did and not just love, but hard work. Because were the “middle child” as we used to say, we worked that bit harder. The other shows – at least from my understanding – they tended to have a good time on their sets. They fooled around and had practical jokes and kidded each other. There wasn’t a lot on our show because we came to work. We came to do the very best Star Trek that we could. There used to be a commercial on TV: “We’re Avis, we have to try harder.” I think that is a lot of what we were doing; we were trying harder. And I think that comes through in the documentary.
In the documentary, when talking about this “middle child” of Star Trek notion, you used the word “hurtful.” Can you expand on that, are there examples of hurtful things done or said?
It was not hurtful in the sense of “oh my god, I was devastated by that.” Here is a simple example. People would say: “What are you doing now, Armin?” And I would say: “I’m doing Star Trek.” And they would say: “Is that the one with the bald captain?” And I would say: “No, it’s the one with the black captain” and they would get glassy-eyed. And I would say: “Really? Obviously, you know about the Picard character, but you don’t know about ours?” That’s hurtful in the sense that you are being ignored. You know what it is like to be in a group of people and you are not being treated as an equal. That was hurtful. Again, not terrible – not something you would tell your therapist about – but, to be thought of as second best or not even to be considered at all, that was hurtful.
And according to what you said in the documentary, you believe the reality is the other way around. Why do you believe Deep Space Nine to be the superior show compared to the two that preceded it?
I think we dealt more with human issues. The two shows that came before us were wonderful shows and I am a big fan of both. But, they were about solving problems on other worlds. Yes, they dealt with social issues, which is what Star Trek has always been about. But there was relatively little – there were some – but relatively little stories about family and about personal agendas, about maturing, and about the things that make up humans, that make up people.
And I believe our coming out from behind the cloud in the last couple of years, we don’t seem dated. We are still dealing with truth. Although we shot this stuff 20 years ago, they are as important today as they were then. It is not so much about saving a world from itself, but finding out how a person can grow from their experiences.
You actually had some experience in Star Trek before DS9, being in the first episode of TNG that introduced the Ferengi, which most believe didn’t go well. You stated that one of your goals for DS9 was to rehabilitate the Ferengi. Do you believe that mission was accomplished?
From my point of view, yes, and from all the kind things that have been said about the Ferengi as opposed to what I did – and primarily it was my mistakes – in that first episode of TNG. But the rehabilitation wasn’t all me. It certainly had to do with Aron [Eisenberg]’s portrayal of Nog, Max [Grodénchik]’s portrayal of Rom, with Cecily [Adams]’ portrayal as Moogie. All of those actors together helped rehabilitate this particular culture, and of course, we couldn’t have done it before without the writers, who created all those stories. I think we did rehabilitate the race and I take full responsibility for the race being founded on such weak premises.
[Showrunner] Ira Steven Behr told me that when he signed on for the show he wasn’t too keen on it involving the Ferengi and that it wasn’t until he saw the dynamic between Quark and Rom in one of those first episodes, that he realized it is a story about brothers. Is that special fraternal chemistry something you and Max worked on developing?
I don’t know if we worked on it, but it certainly came up. As you hear about in the documentary, we rehearsed at my house often for my scenes and Max’s scenes and the other Ferengi episodes. And because we worked out our relationship at my house, off the set, that romance, that brotherly relationship grew not only at work but at my house as well. Though we weren’t working on it per se, it was an outgrowth of that work. And Max – who has the greatest heart in the world – as I began to understand, I began to appreciate him more. On the page, I was constantly yelling at him. But I came to realize, how can you yell at this really loving human being, and began to both yell at him and love him at the same time. It is sort of the relationship people have with their siblings. You love them, but they can push buttons.
There were a lot of those Ferengi-focused episodes, many of which are fan favorites. But because the show was dark, sometimes these Ferengi episodes were used to lighten things up as balance. Ira has said he may have relied too much on you guys for comic relief. Was that something you felt, or even expressed at the time?
Sometimes I felt that one or two episodes were a little too saccharine, a little too sweet, a little too comic without a point to it. I have made no secret of how the episode called “Profit and Lace” was difficult to do and even more difficult to watch. It seemed like a gag that went on too long. And it wasn’t that I was playing a woman. I had done that before and that is a challenge and a delight. But, my character learned nothing from the experience.
So, sometimes yes, I think that is a possibility. But, for those few episodes that were less than perfect, there were so many episodes where I got to do things that I never expected to do as Quark when I first signed on. There were some really touching, wise speeches and episodes where I was learning and perhaps teaching other people.
Are there any particular episodes in that vein that stand out for you?
One would be [“The Siege of AR-558”]. That is a phenomenal contraposition to “Profit and Lace.” Another earlier one called “Move Along Home” was the beginning of looking at Quark’s depth. When I did that episode, I thought there was a possibility that this character will not simply be a two-dimensional comical character.
It was noted in the documentary that two of the Ferengi characters had these incredible arcs, especially Nog who started as Jake’s friend and ended up in Starfleet, plus the whole thing of losing his leg. And you had Rom getting married and even ending up Nagus…
Not to mention – and it is really important – how he got out from under the thumb of Quark. Quark commanded him for the first couple of seasons and eventually, he stood up to me and that was a great transitional thing for him, as well.
So, how did you feel about Quark’s arc through the series, including how they left things at the end with Quark sort of back where he started in his bar?
That is a very interesting question, and I will try to answer as best as a I can. Up until that final episode, I was a little deflated I didn’t think my character had matured or changed as much as some of the other characters. When I got to that episode when they asked me to sort of think about going back to where I had started, the amount of change I had not been aware of was suddenly obvious to me, and I was enormously gratified by that. It was one of the great gifts that the writers gave me, to make me see clearly how far my character had come, even though I hadn’t been aware of it over the years.
How to watch the documentary
Keep up with all the updates and news on the DS9 documentary in our What We Left Behind category here at TrekMovie.com